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Nontoxic: Elyse Griffin, a co-founder of CASE, wants strict regulatory oversight of Lafarge.

Photo: Chet Hardin

Get the Lead Out (and the Ammonia, and the Mercury . . .)

Community group wants the Lafarge cement plant in Ravena to become a less toxic neighbor

We fear that the last 47 years has been one dangerous science experiment performed on the residents of your town, and your kids,” Elyse Griffin told the town board of Coeymans Monday night. She is one of the co-founders of Community Advocates for Safe Emissions, a group of citizens from the communities that surround the Lafarge cement plant in Ravena. CASE formed last year, Griffin said, over concern that the emissions from the plant have had dire effects on the people and children in their communities.

“We do not know the full range of toxins coming out of the smokestack,” Griffin said, “but what we do know is pretty alarming.”

She ran down a list of known toxins that she claimed the Lafarge plant produces.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, she said, Lafarge produced 22 tons of lead in 2006 alone, which it landfilled on site, she said, across the street from two schools. Nearly 1,200 children go to those schools everyday. “We all know that lead is a potent neurotoxin related to kidney damage, seizures.”

“[Lafarge] also emitted 65 tons of ammonia, which is a respiratory irritant,” she said. “Hydrochloric acid, an eye, skin, and mucous irritant. And just under one gram of dioxins.” Dioxins are particularly nasty; even trace amounts can cause skeletal deformities, kidney defects, and weakened immune responses.

In 2007, the EPA ranked Lafarge the fourth worst mercury polluter in the United States, pumping an average of 380 to 400 pounds of mercury a year out of its smokestack from 2003 to 2006.

“Mercury is a very potent neurotoxin that causes neurological and developmental delays, especially in children and developing fetuses,” Griffin said. Lafarge issued a statement last year claiming that 98.7 percent “of its mercury emissions are in the form of elemental mercury.” Elemental mercury, according to the World Health Organization, is absorbed into the body through inhalation. Elemental mercury can travel throughout the body, Griffin said, and will even penetrate into the brain or into the womb.

The list went on.

“And all of this dumped on our community, one year at a time, for 47 consecutive years. To our knowledge, the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation has never taken a single soil sample to determine the cumulative environmental and health impact of these emissions . . . nor studied the individual health impact from long-term chronic exposure to these toxins.”

Griffin said that although there is no conclusive evidence of the effects of these toxins on the people who live in the long shadow of Lafarge’s smoke-stack plume, there have been determinative studies performed in other states, which provide evidence that exposure to these toxins can be devastating.

She pointed to a study performed by the University of Texas San Antonio, which concluded that in cases of exposure to 1,000 pounds of mercury there is a 43-percent increase in special education rates, and a 61-percent increase in the rate of autism.

Griffin, a young mother, said that she believes that she has seen the effects of heavy-metal pollution on her own 4-year-old son, who currently is being treated for mercury toxicity and struggling against the debilitating behavioral effects that this has caused in him.

CASE cofounder Elyse Kunz addressed the board: “We want to be absolutely clear that we don’t want to see Lafarge go out of business. . . . But we want to make sure as we go forward, we are doing it in the safest way possible.”

In March, the EPA will release new guidelines regarding mercury emissions from cement kilns. Lafarge is in the planning process for a new, state-of-the-art kiln and smokestack that spokesman John Reagan said should be online by 2014.

Kunz said that now is the time to demand maximum regulatory oversight of the plant.

“We will be living with the next smokestack for the next 50 years,” Kunz said. “So this is an important moment to do the safest thing possible going forward.”

CASE urged the board and Coeymans Supervisor Ronald Hotaling to voice their concerns to the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the EPA.

Hotaling said that was a reasonable request for the board, and one they could accommodate.

—Chet Hardin

CASE urges any residents who suspect that their health impairments might be connected to the emissions from Lafarge to contact the organization. You can find CASE online at

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